While worried Flint, Michigan, residents were sounding the alarm last year on brownish, contaminated water flowing from their taps, leaked emails published Thursday show state government workers in the city were quietly receiving clean water in coolers — a full year before bottled water was made available to residents.
Progress Michigan obtained emails of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality workers from January 2015. According to the emails, state workers in Flint expressed concern about the quality of water in their offices following two boil water advisories as well as a city notice of unusually high levels of trihalomethanes.
At that the same time, residents in Flint were reporting brownish water flowing from their taps, but state officials had not yet confirmed the water was contaminated with lead. Authorities repeatedly told residents the water was safe to drink, and Gov. Rick Snyder would not go on to call a state of emergency in response to the lead-contamination crisis until 2016.
Still, on Jan. 7, 2015, a facilities notice for state workers in the city announced that purified water coolers would be placed alongside tap water drinking fountains.
"While the City of Flint states that corrective actions are not necessary, [the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget] is in the process of providing a water cooler on each occupied floor, positioned near the water fountain, so you can choose which water to drink."
A state spokesperson told BuzzFeed News the trihalomethanes warning was sent out based on oversight by the state Department of Environmental Quality. Flint water consumers — including those at the state office building — received the notice and were then able to determine what actions to take.
The state building's facilities notice said the water coolers would be provided as long as the city water did not meet "treatment requirements." The spokesperson told BuzzFeed News she believed the coolers remained in place today.
Claudia Koerner is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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